Showing posts with label Bella-Bella. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bella-Bella. Show all posts

Friday, June 29, 2012

The School of Verckys




Note: This post was updated and corrected on July 3, 2012.

The rambunctious saxophone stylings of Kiamwuangana Mateta "Verckys" are a hallmark of many of the 1960s recordings of Congo's great Orchestre OK Jazz. Bandleader Luambo Makiadi Franco is said to have much valued his improvisational style and invocations of American-style R&B, a counterpoint to the rest of the band's more sedate sound.Verckys attempted a mutiny in l968 while Franco was away in Europe, enticing several of the band members to join him in forming a new orchestra. When Franco returned he was able to convince most of the defectors to come back, but Verckys, unrepentant, launched Orchestre Vévé in 1969. He later managed the careers of up-and-coming bands like Les Grands Maquisards, Bella-Bella, Lipua-Lipua and Empire Bakuba. There was a distinct Verckys sound or "school" exemplified by these groups, which was influential across Africa as I discuss in this post..

By the early 1980s Verckys had established himself as an emperor of the Zaïrean music scene to rival Franco himself, with his own recording studio, record label, nightclub, pressing facility and a stable of the hottest bands in Kinshasa, including various Zaïko Langa-Langa offshoots and Victoria Eleison.

The 45s I offer here were borrowed from various friends and dubbed onto 10" tape reels back in the '80s. Several years ago I digitized them, along with a number of other recordings in my library. Unfortunately I didn't think to photocopy the labels, but I copied the recording information from them. These were all pressed in the mid-'70s in Kenya.

"Lukani" (Editions Vévé VV213), composed by Tusevo Nejos and released in 1975, elicits warm feelings of nostalgia across Africa, as typified by these comments on YouTube: ". . .:Brings back childhood memories growing up in eastern Nigeria then. Quite fun listening to my elder ones singing along as the music is being played on the popular IBS radio station. Oh Africa, home of good and undiluted music." ". . . Reminds me of the Kampala of the 1970's, when Idi Amin ruled supreme. Remember those bell-bottoms, eh?":

Orchestre Vévé - Lukani Pts 1 & 2

The LP Les Grands Succes de Editions Veve (Sonafric SAS 50039, 1977) features another version of "Engunduka" by Orchestre Engunduka. I'd give the edge, though, to Vévé's interpretation of Sax Matalanza's song (Editions Vévé VV-234-N), which starts out somewhat restrained but quickly succumbs to frenzied guitars and some truly insane sax work:

Orchestre Vévé Internationale - Engunduka Pts 1 & 2

According to Mboka Mosika, Orchestre Kiam was founded in 1974 by Muzola Ngunga. In appreciation for the band's sponsor Kiamwuangana Verckys, who provided its musical instruments, he proposed to name it "Kiam." Orchestre Kiam lacked the distinctive horn section of Vévé and had a radically different style. "Kamiki" (Editions Vévé VV218), which Ngunga composed, was a big hit in 1975. Here the stripped-down guitar sound, scattershot percussion and frantic vocals bring to mind the sound of Orchestre Stukas du Zaïre, a contemporary aggregation:

Orchestre Kiam - Kamiki Pts 1 & 2

Orchestre Bella-Bella was founded in 1969 by the Soki brothers, Emilie Diazenza and Maxime Vangu. When they hooked up with Verckys and his label Editions Vévé this caused a fair amount of disagreement within the band, leading to the departure of a number of members in 1972. The result, though, was the accession to Bella-Bella of several musicians who were to become leading lights of the Kinshasa music scene, including Malembu Tshibau, Shaba Kahamba, Pepe Kalle and Nyboma Mwan'dido. Dissension continued, however, and Emile left to form his own short-lived group, Bella Mambo, only to rejoin a few months later. By 1973, feeling ripped off, the brothers left Editions Vévé, taking the Bella-Bella name but leaving behind their musical instruments, which were owned by Verckys, and a number of musicians including Pepe Kalle and Nyboma, who became the foundation for a new band, Orchestre Lipua-Lipua.

The two Bella-Bella songs here, "Pambi Ndoni" (Bilanga Bl 001) and "Nene"(Editions FrancAfrique EFA 08), were both written by Soki Vangu around 1975 after the break with Verckys. The late '70s were the peak of Bella-Bella's influence, and the group waxed numerous classics including "Tika Ngai Mobali," "Houleux-Houleux" and "Zing Zong." In 1977 Soki Diazenza apparently suffered a nervous breakdown. It was all downhill for Bella-Bella from that point and by 1981 it had effectively disappeared.

Orchestre Bella-Bella - Pambi Ndoni Pts 1 & 2

Orchestre Bella-Bella - Nene Pts 1 & 2

As recounted above, Orchestre Lipua-Lipua was formed by the musicians who stayed with Editions Vévé after the departure of Bella-Bella in 1973. It too suffered its share of defections, notably that of Pepe Kallé, but soon recruited a number of talented musicians, notably rhythm guitarist Vata Mombassa, who became leader with the departure of Nyboma Mwan'dido and several others in 1975 to found Orchestre Les Kamalé. He is responsible for the next two tracks, "Bondo" (ASL ASL 7-2109) and "Lossa" (Editions Vévé VV198):

Orchestre Lipua-Lipua - Bondo Pts 1 & 2

Orchestre Lipua-Lipua - Lossa Pts 1 & 2

Lipua-Lipua winds things up with Tedia Wamu Mbakidi's scorcher "Temperature" (Editions Vévé VV 228N) from 1977. Nzaya Nzayadio's vocals and Santana Mongoley's lead guitar really make this one a standout. Lipua-Lipua would continue on for several years until sputtering out around 1984. Vata Mombassa pursued a solo career, ending up in Abidjan, Ivory Coast where he remains to this day.

Orchestre Lipua-Lipua - Temperature Pts 1 & 2

Download the songs in this post as a zipped file here. For more information on Verckys and his label Editions Vévé, see Alistair Johnston's discography here. The liner notes of Vintage Verckys (Retroafric RETRO 15CD, 2001) were very helpful in researching this post; in addition the blog Classic Ambiance: Franco and Pepe Kalle Flashback is highly recommended. African Rock: The Pop Music of a Continent by Chris Stapleton and Chris May (Obelisk/Dutton, 1990), Congo Colossus: The Life and Legacy of Franco & OK Jazz by Graeme Ewens (Buku Press, 1994) and Rumba on the River by Gary Stewart (Verso, 2004) are all excellent reference books. All of these may be purchased or downloaded by clicking on the links.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Shortwave Memories



More Congo classics via Nigeria here! Music From Zaïre Vol. 3 (Soundpoint SOP 041, 1977) opens with "Ngalula Marthe" by Orchestre Elegance Jazz, a song that provokes fond memories among West Africans of a certain age. A quick scan of the internet produces numerous comments about it, including these: ". . .I dreamed of my childhood in Sierra Leone. When I board a public transport like a taxi, private bus, pick trucks travelling to the countryside, this record was the music of the time in Sierra Leone in all these public transportations. . ." ". . . This song typified my happy childhood in the good old days in Nigeria. Late 70s and early 80s, I think. Remembered it being played on the state radio's ikwokilikwo hour in Anambra back them. The best of the classic Congolese music! It's soothing!" ". . . We used to organize dancing competitions with this song back then in Cote d'Ivoire. . ."

As regards the meaning of the lyrics, another listener writes, ". . . Ngalula is the name of a girl in the Kasai culture: Ngalula is special because of her genetic makeup. So is Ntumba from the cultural perispectives. These children were concieved without sex after mother has just had another child. . ."

There's no doubt that this 1972 classic had a broad influence on West African music. Compare the guitar work at around the 3:30 mark to Prince Nico Mbarga's "Sweet Mother," released in 1976:


Here's another song evoking the feeling of something you'd hear over a shortwave radio late at night. I'm not the only one who's looked high and low for part two of "Yokolo," but according to Alistair Johnston's discography of Docteur Nico it is avaliable only on two 45s (Editions Sukisa S.500 & Ngoma DNJ 5274) issued in the late '60s. To the best of my knowledge the only album Part 1 is available on is Music From Zaïre Vol. 3. A rarity indeed!


Nyboma Mwan'dido made his musical debut in 1969 at the age of 16, and was recruited by the musician and promoter Kiamuangana Verckys to Orchestre Bella-Bella in 1971, and subsequently to Orchestre Lipua-Lipua. "Kamalé'" proved to be such a smash for Lipua-Lipua and its lead singer that in 1975 Nyboma split from Verckys to form his own band, Les Kamalé, which notched a series of hits, including the enduring classic "Doublé Doublé." You can hear a full-length version of "Kamalé" here.



When Kiamuangana Verckys left OK Jazz in 1969, he soon developed a recording empire and a raucous sound to rival those of his mentor Franco and the other giant of Congo music at the time, Tabu Ley Rochereau. I've been unable to locate Part One of "Dona," the wild horns, biting guitar licks and over-the-top vocals of which showcase the "Verckys Sound" at its best:


Part One of Bella-Bella's great "Mbuta" has also eluded me. You can hear Nyboma singing backup here:


"Infidelité Mado," also known as "Mado," realeased in 1972, was a great hit for Franco and Orchestre TPOK Jazz. I apologize for the poor sound quality of the version here, indeed of the last four tracks on Music from Zaïre Vol. 3 (Side Two of the LP is slightly off-center). You can hear a better version of "Mado," courtesy of Worldservice, here:


Founded in 1953, Joseph Kabasele's African Jazz was the first "modern" Congolese orchestra:


Download Music From Zaïre Vol. 3 as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

From Congo via Nigeria




Priscilla tells me that in the 1970s, when she was a girl in Awo-Omamma, Nigeria, the family used to sit around the short-wave radio almost every night to catch the broadcasts from Radio Brazzaville. I imagine the music they heard sounded an awful lot like the contents of Music from Zaire Vol. 6 (Soundpoint SOP 044, 1978), today's featured recording.

Congo music, of course, was huge in the 1970s all over Africa, and especially in Eastern Nigeria, where it sparked the development of a whole new genre of guitar-based highlife music exemplified by Oliver de Coque, the Oriental Brothers and their many imitators and camp-followers. The numerous Nigerian pressings of Congo music that were made in the '70s feature the musicians that influenced this trend, in the case of Music From Zaire Vol. 6 the artists in Kiamuangana Verckys' stable like Orchestres Kiam, Lipua-Lipua and Cavacha. The music echoes down through the years. I was amazed, on viewing a video of my father-in-law's funeral, made in 1998, to hear an Igbo-language version of Lipua-Lipua's "Nouvelle Generation" played by one of the local bands. No doubt you could hear the same thing in Yaoundé or the backwoods of Kenya - truly it's one of the most influential African songs of all time.

As much of this music is already available through many reissues and postings on the internet, I was hesitant to tack it up here. But recently both Worldservice and Global Groove posted Stars From Zaire Vol. 4 (Soundpoint SOP 042), another installment in the series. That got me to thinking: Is there something about these particular Nigerian pressings that makes them unique? I think so. For one thing, as Worldservice points out, there is a tendency to not include the slower "A" sides of the various recordings and go directly to the big payoff: the "sebene," the faster, more improvisatory second half. This structure is typical of Igbo guitar highlife recordings of the '70s and '80s as well. Just listen to Oliver de Coque or Kabaka and compare them to Music From Zaire Vol. 6 and see what I mean!

The picture of the Yoruba drummers on the back of the record is also interesting:



Here, then, is the music. Just sit back and imagine you're listening to a shortwave radio in Awo-Omamma, Nigeria in the '70s . . .







I believe track 6, "Mwana Yoka Toli," was misattributed on the album sleeve. I'm following the liner notes of Jeunes Orchestres Zaïrois 1971/1973/1974/1975 (Sonodisc CD 36517, 1992) and crediting it to Orchestre Bella-Bella. To download Music from Zaire Vol. 6 as a zipped file go here, and following Worldservice's example, I'm making the "complete" versions of "Baya-Baya," "Mombasa" and "Shama Shama" available here. I'll probably be posting more of these Nigerian pressings of Congo music in the future.